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It all comes down to rain

June 27, 2012
By Randy Krzmarzick , The Journal

By Randy Krzmarzick

"Ask rain from the Lord in the season of the spring rain, from the Lord who makes the storm clouds, and he will give them showers of rain, to everyone the vegetation in the field." Zechariah 10:1

I was sitting at the kitchen table watching clouds build up out our west window. After a wet spring, the replanting and spraying were all done in some mud. Now we'd missed a couple weeks of showers, and I was pining for a shot of rain. I said to Pam as she walked past, "I think we'd take an inch of rain right about now." Without looking back, she said, "You know, it's not up to you."

Oh. That's right. But that can't stop me from wishing for perfect weather. We are, after all, trying to grow a perfect crop. I had a conversation with a friend who was wondering whether there is actually a time for farmers between too much rain and not enough rain, or whether such a moment is merely hypothetical. I had to admit, it may be like a quark in physics ? so infinitesimally small, it only exists in theory.

This, as farmers, we know too well: we don't control everything. We spend all year thinking, reading, and consulting about our tillage, weed control, seed selection, etc. Then we spend hundreds of dollars an acre on seed, fertilizer, equipment, etc. In the end, the primary input is the weather. We have no control over the big one.

There are days I feel absolutely blessed to work with Nature in this way. "She's" my partner, and I try to learn from "her" every day. Then there are days, it drives me nuts.

Growing a crop is not unlike an artist painting a picture. The artist is never totally satisfied with his work, but he can see perfection in his mind. Now, I as a farmer am trying to paint this picture, but standing next to me is Nature. I hold a delicate, thin artist's brush, and "she" wields a 6-inch paint brush. In the end, "she'll" lay down most of the color; I get to fill in around the edges.

Farmers can see the perfect season in our minds. It lies somewhere between the drought of 1988 and the floods of 1993. I've heard that if we would ever have perfectly average weather, we'd grow fine crops. Of course, "average" only exists on paper. But it is interesting to think that thousands of years of evolution have put us in this place growing these crops that more or less fit perfectly.

More or less. Then we get 12 inches of rain in May. Here in the northern Corn Belt with its sloughy, heavy soils we spend much of our time worrying about too much rain. We are unique in that way. Most farmers, in most places, in most times have fretted about too little rain.

Someone told me once that farmer nirvana went like this: dry spring, wet summer, dry fall. That sounds about right. If I descended a mountain seeking enlightenment, the guru sitting cross-legged on the mountain top would tell me, "Grasshopper, what your restless soul desires is dry spring"

When I think of my worst days farming, I think of wet springs, dry summers, and wet falls. I remember we had just completed our new pole barn-shop years back, and I was in there during a July drought, when it began to rain. My heart leapt, and then I discovered the phenomenon wherein a sprinkle inside a pole barn sounds like a torrential downpour. I also remember nights lying awake in bed listening to rain pound the roof above, wondering how in the world I was ever going to get the crop out of my fields of mud.

One of the advantages of getting older (there's a couple) is that you get very good at "feeling" the weather. It's not something you can even put in words, but thousands of hours spent looking at the sky while you feel the wind and sense air pressure and humidity give you a pretty good idea what's coming.

Of course, radar helps. Radar is an absolute revelation if you farm or do any work out of doors. I'm not sure what my father Sylvester would have made of today's farmers visiting in town: "Just before I come in, there was a big blob north of the river" or "There was this blob coming at us last night, and then it split right at Evan."

My dad had a rain gauge, though, this has not changed. The morning after a rain, after ten minutes in town, any farmer can draw a thoroughly accurate map of area rainfall amounts. "I got about six tenths. Whaddyouget?" "Rob Goblirsch said they got almost an inch out at Stark." "North of town missed it again." In a place like Sleepy Eye, even town people have rain gauges.

The rain comes from above; it is more than metaphor to say it comes from the heavens. Yes, sometimes we get too much. But we need the rain, and farmers know it is a gift. A gift comes from someone, and this gift is from the Creator of this place. The Creator will do what the Creator will do, but farmers certainly know how to pray for rain.

We pray, but it's really an ongoing conversation a farmer has with God. It starts in early spring and lasts till the equipment is shedded in December. "Hey, God, we could sure use a half inch of rain to get these beans germinated." And, "God, are you paying attention up there? You can shut it off any time now." Of course a mature faith tells us that He may not answer our prayers the way we want. But that He always does answer our prayers the way we need.

Pam's right. It's not up to me whether we get an inch of rain. But I can ask.



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